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Ussery v. Goodrich Restoration, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

May 16, 2017

USSERY
v.
GOODRICH RESTORATION, INC.

          DOYLE, C. J., MILLER, P. J., and REESE, J.

          Miller, Presiding Judge.

         In this contractual dispute, defendant Warren Ussery appeals the final judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Goodrich Restoration, Inc. d/b/a Servpro of Macon East-West ("Servpro") on: (i) Ussery's counterclaims for return of funds paid and for a violation of the Fair Business Practices Act ("FBPA"), OCGA § 10-1-390 et seq., and (ii) his request for attorney fees. Ussery contends on appeal that the trial court erred in three ways: (i) by misinterpreting OCGA § 43-41-17 (b) when it found that he could not recover for funds he paid to Servpro for general contracting services it provided without the necessary license; (ii) by denying relief on his FBPA claim; and (iii) by denying his request for attorney fees. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Where, as here, an appeal is filed from the entry of judgment following a bench trial, "we apply a de novo standard of review to any questions of law decided by the trial court, but will defer to any factual findings made by that court if there is any evidence to sustain them." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Central Mtg. Co. v. Humphrey, 328 Ga.App. 474, 475 (759 S.E.2d 896) (2014).

         The material facts in this case are undisputed. After a fire damaged Ussery's home in 2011, he and his insurance company arranged for Servpro to provide cleanup and restoration services. Following a disagreement between the parties, Ussery terminated those services. Servpro then sued Ussery, seeking: (i) damages for breach of contract and quantum meruit/unjust enrichment, in the amount of $27, 421.57; and (ii) to foreclose on a lien it had recorded against Ussery's home. Ussery raised several counterclaims against Servpro, including an FBPA claim and a claim for return of funds he paid to Servpro, which was premised on the proposition that his agreement with Servpro was illegal because Servpro had violated OCGA § 43-41-17 by acting as a general contractor without a license.

         After the trial court granted summary judgment to Servpro on several of Ussery's counterclaims, Servpro dismissed all of its claims against him. The parties then proceeded to a bench trial on Ussery's remaining counterclaims, each of which the trial court denied. This appeal followed.

         1. Ussery first challenges the denial of relief on his claim under OCGA § 43-41-17 (b) for a return of funds he paid to Servpro. He contends that the trial court erred in ruling that, because Servpro did not realize a profit from its dealings with him, it is not required to return the funds he paid to it. We discern no error.

         The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which we review de novo. Hill v. First Atlantic Bank, 323 Ga.App. 731, 732 (747 S.E.2d 892) (2013). "When we consider the meaning of a statute, we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Deal v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 172 (1) (a) (751 S.E.2d 337) (2013). Thus,

[t]he cardinal rule of statutory construction requires this Court to look diligently for the intention of the General Assembly (OCGA § 1-3-1), and the golden rule of statutory construction requires us to follow the literal language of the statute unless it produces contradiction, absurdity, or such an inconvenience as to ensure that the legislature meant something else. Absent clear evidence that a contrary meaning was intended by the legislature, we assign words in a statute their ordinary, logical, and common meanings.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Turner v. Ga. River Network, 297 Ga. 306, 308 (773 S.E.2d 706) (2015).

         Initially enacted in 2004, see Ga. L. 2004, pp. 786, 810, § 1, the statute at issue here, OCGA § 43-41-17 (b), provides, in relevant part:

As a matter of public policy, any contract entered into on or after July 1, 2008, for the performance of work for which a residential contractor or general contractor license is required by this chapter and not otherwise exempted under this chapter and which is between an owner and a contractor who does not have a valid and current license required for such work in accordance with this chapter shall be unenforceable in law or in equity by the unlicensed contractor. . . . Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, if a contract is rendered unenforceable under this subsection, no lien or bond claim shall exist in favor of the unlicensed contractor for any labor, services, or materials provided under the contract or any amendment thereto. This subsection shall not affect the rights of parties other than the unlicensed contractor to enforce contract, lien, or bond remedies.

         In enacting this statute, our legislature explained:

It is the intent of the General Assembly, in the interest of public health, safety, and welfare, to safeguard homeowners, other property owners, tenants, and the general public against faulty, inadequate, inefficient, and unsafe residential and general contractors. The practice of residential and general contracting is declared to be a business or profession affecting the public interest and this ...

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